what to do if your dog is poisoned by a sonoran toad

In late spring of 2010, I took a road trip with the kids from our home in Phoenix, Arizona, to California to visit family and friends. It was a two week trip for us, but my husband, Brennen, was to fly to Los Angeles to meet us for the second half of the trip. A few hours before his flight, he called me. "I might not make it to the airport in time," he said, a bit of panic in his voice. "I have to take N.A.S.H.A. to the vet. She caught a Sonoran Toad."

 What to Do if Your Dog is Poisoned by a Sonoran Toad– wellmindedpets.com   photo courtesy of ohio.edu

What to Do if Your Dog is Poisoned by a Sonoran Toad–wellmindedpets.com photo courtesy of ohio.edu

"Oh my G–!" I was helpless, so far away.

"I already washed her mouth out, but I have to get her to the vet right now. Her legs are paralyzed. I'll call you with an update as soon as I can."

There was nothing I could do but wait and panic. We'd known a handful of families who had lost dogs to Sonoran Toad poisoning. It sounds unbelievable–almost comical, but it is anything but. Sonoran Toad poisoning in dogs is serious business, and more common than you might think.

Brennen later recounted the incident

I was watching N.A.S.H.A. in the backyard through the window, and there was just something about her stance. She was on alert, and I immediately knew what it was. I'd removed toads from the yard over the previous couple of days. I opened the slider and screamed, 'N.A.S.H.A., NO!' just as she started to run across the yard to one of the perimeter bushes.
She stuck her head in, pounced, and then immediately jumped back and started shaking her head and foaming at the mouth. Her back legs were buckling as I got to her. I pulled the bush back, and there was the Sonoran Toad I suspected.
I scooped her up and called the vet. They instructed me to flush her mouth out so the water would flow into her mouth and back out, flushing out the toxins as much as possible. They said to do that for several minutes, and then bring her right in. I took her to the sink and flushed her mouth out as the vet instructed. She didn't fight it. Her body was very hot. I put her down to grab my car keys and she couldn't walk at all. She was completely paralyzed.
I got her to the vet within about fifteen minutes. They took her to the back to continue flushing out her mouth, and they monitored her elevated heart rate, high body temperature, and rapid breathing. After what seemed like forever, they came out to let me know that she was doing okay. An hour after bringing her in, they brought her out on a leash, and she was skipping in her usual way and wagging her tail, completely recovered. We got really lucky.

what is a sonoran toad?

 The Sonoran Toad.  photo credit: Randall D. Babb, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Mesa, AZ.

The Sonoran Toad. photo credit: Randall D. Babb, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Mesa, AZ.

The Sonoran Desert Toad, also known as the Colorado River Toad, is a psychoactive toad that lives in the southwestern United States. It is the largest native toad, growing up to 7-9 inches. It has smooth, leathery skin and is olive green or brown in color. White glands can be seen at each mouth corner, and additional white glands are present on their legs, all of which secrete the toxins 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin.

when and where might you encounter a sonoran toad?

Sonoran Toads generally live in the southwestern United States, namely southeastern California, New Mexico, and southern Arizona. They can also be found in Mexico, and sometimes in the southeastern United States. They are semiaquatic and absorb water through their skin, so they are typically found in or near shallow water, especially in muddy areas just after a rain. We have fished several out of our pool. They are generally nocturnal and will emerge from their burrows in the evening, when you may hear their chirps.

The toads are most active May through September, which, here in Arizona, coincides with our monsoon season when it is most humid and wet. Since they are nocturnal, they are usually encountered in the early morning or late evening, but in our case, N.A.S.H.A. discovered a toad right in the middle of the day. 

They can be found in and near washes, and sometimes they gather under street-lights–the prime bug-catching spots–like bar patrons at happy hour. 

If you live in an area where Sonoran Toads are present, it is best not to leave pet food or water outside. They are omnivores, so they may be attracted to the food, and they are often found laying in pet water bowls, which is a common way dogs encounter them. Even if a toad has vacated a water bowl and is no where in sight, its secretions remain in the dog bowl, waiting for an unsuspecting thirsty pooch.

what are the symptoms of sonoran toad poisoning?

Sonoran toad poisoning is most common in dogs because they see the toads as prey or playthings and will go after them, most often with their mouths. Cats can also be affected, but typically can't be bothered to interact with toads, so it's pretty uncommon that a cat would be poisoned. When N.A.S.H.A. had her encounter, the vet told Brennen something unexpected: little dogs typically come out okay, while larger dogs are at greater risk.

This made no sense to me. I mean, if we're dealing with a toxic poison, you'd think the ten-pound dog would be toast and the 100-pound dog would get a mild psychedelic buzz. That would be true, would they have ingested the same amount of poison. The vet explained that small dogs will typically just smell the toad or give it a little nip, thus contacting only a small amount of the poison on its nose and muzzle. Large dogs and sporting dogs, however, will often pick up the toad and chomp down, releasing a very large amount of the toxins inside their mouth, and they may even swallow some. When this occurs, there is really nothing that can be done to save the dog.

Symptoms of Sonoran Toad poisoning include:

shaking of the head

foaming at the mouth

mouth irritation

excessive drooling

rapid breathing

overheating

vomiting

diarrhea

vocalizations

dilated pupils

weakness

loss of coordination/collapse

seizures

dark red mucous membranes

what should i do if my dog is poisoned by a sonoran toad?

Time is the worst enemy of a dog who has been poisoned by a Sonoran Toad. If you know or suspect your dog has been poisoned, veterinarian advice is to immediately flush the dog's mouth out for 5-10 minutes. Direct a hose or sink spray nozzle into the side of your pet's mouth and flush it out away from your dog's throat. Do not spray toward the dog's throat, or your dog will ingest the poison. 

Immediately after the initial flush, take your dog to the nearest vet. Don't feel that you are wasting time by flushing the dog's mouth out, because that is exactly what the vet would do and what they will probably continue to do upon your arrival. You have begun treatment at home, which is important considering dogs who are treated within the first thirty minutes of the poisoning have the best chance of survival.

When left untreated, most dogs subjected to Sonoran Toad poisoning will die.

Check out this Arizona Channel 12 News report from June 2015:

what can i do to protect my dog from sonoran toads?

If you live in or are visiting an area where sonoran toads are present during the months when they are most often active (May-September), there are a few precautions you can take.

• Patrol your yard and surroundings frequently to determine whether toads are present.

• Use your ears–the distinctive quick chirp of the Sonoran Toad is a tell-tale sign of their presence.

• Monitor your dog when he or she goes outside, even if it is in your backyard. Do not allow your dog unsupervised outdoor time, so doggie doors should be shut when your are not present.

• Walk your dog on a leash and bring a flashlight when it is dark for easier toad-spotting.

• Do not allow your dog to investigate bushes, especially at night.

• Avoid the most common areas where toads are present, near bodies of water and washes.

Sonoran Toad poisoning may sound like a rare freak occurrence, but, in reality, it is quite common. If you live or are visiting an area where Sonoran Toads are present, the best thing you can do is monitor your environment, know what to do if your dog comes in contact with one, and act quickly.

Has your dog ever encountered a Sonoran Toad?

As with any medical issue, always seek the advice of a veterinarian. This article is not meant to serve as a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment.